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Reelin’ In the Years 105: Hazell

Taggart’s wasn’t the first TV theme tune Maggie Bell had taken on. From the previous decade here’s her version of the Hazell theme.

Maggie Bell: Hazell

Live It Up 23: No Mean City (Theme tune to Taggart)

There’s only one tune to go with in the week I reviewed No Mean City the novel and that’s the song which was the theme tune to STV’s long-running detective show Taggart and which took its title from the novel. Wonderfully delivered by Maggie Bell.

Maggie Bell: Taggart Theme Tune (No Mean City)



When this Danish TV series – the most expensive production in Danish television history – was first trailed on the BBC and I saw the blue uniforms I thought it would be about the War Between the States (known on this side of the Atlantic as the American Civil War) as the date fitted. I was immediately interested. I’ve read a lot about that conflict and watched the Jim Burns TV series several times. Looking more closely I realised that I didn’t recognise the painting shown on the trailer or the figures within it (I most likely would have for an American Civil War painting) and of course the uniforms’ details weren’t quite right.

I was therefore even more intrigued when it dawned the series was about the Second Schleswig War as that was something I knew vaguely about from History, at school. Once read, who can forget the comment the UK Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, made about the intricacies of the Schleswig-Holstein question – which in the series was uttered to that fine actress Barbara Flynn, in the person of Queen Victoria – that there were only three men who ever understood it; the Prince Consort, who was dead, a German professor who had gone mad and Palmerston himself, who had forgotten all about it?

As presented in the series, the war seems to have been provoked by Denmark in a fit of collective insanity. The programme, which has been criticised for historical inaccuracies (it would be difficult to portray any conflict televisually without some of that I’d have thought) certainly presented the Danish Prime Minister, Monrad, as an utter nutter. There seemed to be an element of hysteria in the air that prefigured the Germany of 1939. (Then again there was widespread welcome to Britain’s declaration of war in 1914, so no need to point fingers; except the UK hadn’t sought that conflict – at least not directly.)

However the dire results of the Second Schleswig War for Denmark meant that, to that country’s credit, no Danish military action outside its frontiers again took place until the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

Scenes were shown from both sides of the conflict and also the sidelines as Palmerston affected to intercede. The subtitles were no intrusion (1864 went out in the BBC 4 European detective slot on Saturdays at 9 pm.) As near as I could tell each nationality in the series spoke in its own language. (I have a smattering of German but no Danish except what I could glean from the dialogue’s similarities to German, English and, occasionally, Scots.)

For the series the necessity of introducing a human aspect to the conflict in the shape of estate manager’s daughter Inge and the two brothers Laust and Peter, with whom she has a special bond, allowed the introduction of those perennial literary concerns, love, sex and death. There was love to be sure, but not much sex – only four scenes as I recall, three of them having not much to do with love, plus another featuring boys attempting to masturbate – but enough death and destruction to slake anyone’s desires. The battle scenes were impressive – and visceral.

Overall the series was magnificent television, well worth checking out if you didn’t catch it, but I thought the elements of mysticism involving one of the soldiers from the village were unconvincing and the framing device wherein a disaffected young woman from our century sent to his house for a form of community service helps read out Inge’s memoirs to an old man (who is Inge’s grandson) was perhaps unnecessary, though it did give the sense of consequences cascading down the years and a contrast to the privations of the soldiers of 150 years earlier.

When I last looked in the BBC shop, the DVD of this was out of stock but the Blu-ray was available.

Just Like Buses

Today is another anniversary. Again just about inescapable if you’ve been near any BBC outlet the past week or so.

You wait 50 years for an anniversary and then two come along at once….

On 23rd November 1963 a strange, spooky TV programme with a first episode entitled An Unearthly Child appeared on BBC 1.

The programme was of course Doctor Who.

On Thu, 21/11/13, BBC 2 showed a good drama about its genesis, An Adventure in Space and Time. It’s on the iPlayer here.

The BBC has got a bit of a cheek calling it the longest running TV programme, though, considering they axed it for years after Sylvester McCoy’s run finished – apart from the Paul McGann one-off.

For any nostalgia freaks here are all the different title sequences.

Thunderbirds Are Gone

So today it is Gerry Anderson who has died.

Though he had produced television programmes earlier I was first aware of his work with Fireball XL5 – mainly due to the theme tune (which one of my mates had running through his head during a University term exam years later.) Then came Stingray and the iconic Thunderbirds.

After that, through Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90 I was perhaps a bit too old.

However, when these series were repeated in the 1990s my own sons were the perfect age to enjoy them – and the toys! (We still have those toys somewhere.)

Anderson moved on from the puppetry and “Supermarionation” of these fondly loved shows with the live action UFO and Space 1999. Those of a cruel disposition jested that the actors here were more wooden than the puppets had been.

All have dated perhaps badly (but nothing dates as quickly as the future.)

I was watching the BBC news channel when I heard the news. Emily Maitlis tried to interview Brian Blessed (who’d worked with Gerry a few times) over the phone. That was a mistake. Despite trying, she couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

Many will remember Gerry and his creations with a great deal of fondness.

Gerry Anderson, 14/04/1929-26/12/2012. So it goes.

Geography Awry

In the last episode of Waldemar Januszcak‘s excellent television series on the mostly unheralded art of the Dark Ages, where he covered the Vikings, the Carolingians and The Anglo-Saxons, he referred to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) as being off the North coast of Britain.

Tut-tut, Waldemar. That would make it in the Pentland Firth/Atlantic!

Lindisfarne is actually barely two-thirds of the way up Britain.

It is, however, off the North-East coast of England.

Long Ago and Far Away

Two 60s memories are now no more.

Scott McKenzie – a one hit wonder with San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)has died.

So too has the actor William Windom whom I remember very fondly as the star of the US TV series My World and Welcome To It, inspired by the works of cartoonist James Thurber, a role for which Windom won an Emmy Award. Though I hadn’t quite remembered it he also played Commodore Decker in Star Trek – for evidence of which see this:-

Commodore Decker

More latterly Windom has appeared in Murder She Wrote.

Here is a You Tube clip of a part of a My World and Welcome To It episode. It follows the usual pattern of Windom giving a spiel outside his (cartoon) house before the opening credits – which appear at about 1:30 and are a joy in themselves. The clip retains the original US adverts. (I must say they would drive me crazy coming in so early in a programme.)


Scott McKenzie (Philip Wallach Blondheim): 10/1/1939-18/8/2012
William Windom: 28/9/1923-16/8/2012

So it goes.

Elisabeth Sladen

I was saddened to read today of the death of Elizabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane, one of the Doctor’s many companions in Doctor Who.

Sad too, that Elisabeth was only 63. It’s no age at all for these days.

I am by no means an inveterate Doctor Who fanboy but have watched the series from its inception up to the present day. Sarah-Jane was the first female companion to be more than just an adjunct to the Doctor. It was a pleasure to see her return to the updated show during David Tenant’s time as the incumbent. I must admit, though, that I didn’t bother with the spin-off Sarah-Jane Adventures; I don’t think they were meant for me anyway.

With the demise of Nicholas Courtney that means two fondly remembered Doctor Who characters’ actors have now gone in less than two months.

Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen: 1/2/1946-19/4/2011. So it goes.

The West Wing, Series 7. (Or: The Campaign Trail, Series 2.)


While the series is dramatic and at times makes very good TV the producers could probably be sued under the Trades Descriptions Act. In large part, the West Wing this is not, as it deals mostly with the campaign to elect Bartlet’s successor as President and the transition period which follows the election. However, what this strategy does do is avoid staleness. Any hint of claustrophobia, that we are too restricted to the White House, is thereby nullified.

While the programme is as always an ensemble piece there are two wonderful performances from Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits as the Presidential candidates in the episode featuring the television debate. On a sadder note the death of perennial cast member John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, casts a long shadow over this final series.

The writers undoubtedly nail that self-righteousness that a lot of Republicans seem to ooze, an inner certainty that cannot be brooked. In this regard their making the Republican candidate not a God-botherer and a more or less freedom of conscience man is strange. It’s not so much USians puffing themselves up as showing how they might be if they could only access the better angels of their nature.

Looking at the run of the West Wing as a whole, characters appear, disappear and reappear seemingly without logic but probably in a reflection of the availability of the actors concerned.

But it is of course first and foremost entertainment – albeit tinged with the US penchant for sentimentality. And it illustrates the old adage that all political careers end in failure.

The West Wing, Series 6


As the seasons roll by The West Wing becomes all too obviously a fiction with not much regard for verisimilitude. The scriptwriters appear to be ticking all the boxes one by one. Even attempts at a rapprochement with Cuba!

The Gaza cliffhanger thing from season 5 is resolved quickly with Pres Bartlet solving the Israel/Palestine problem (if only) and Donna, of course, being OK. At one point we hear Josh Lyman saying, “wanker.” Do they know what it means? C J replacing Leo McGarry as Chief of Staff after his heart attack seemed unlikely. We also get an episode where magicians Penn and Teller “burn” a US flag in the White House and all hell breaks loose. [What is with this lot and their flag? They treat it like a sacred relic. It’s a symbol, nothing more. Certainly not an object worthy of veneration. It’s as if we were to reverence Buckingham Palace or something.]

On a trip to a summit in China the President’s multiple sclerosis rears its head as, for dramatic necessity, it had to at some time. He, of course, overcomes it all but the gradual degradation of his abilities is played on for the rest of the series.

The setting begins to shift to who is going to succeed him. Each second episode breaks off from the West Wing to focus on the election Primaries, both Democrat and Republican.

There was one episode where that irritating, and totally unconvincing, British ambassador appeared again in which the dynamic of US-UK relations was completely misrepresented. The rather touching idea was expressed that Britain would actually take military action somewhere (the RAF might bomb Iran no less!!!) without the say-so (or even acquiescence) of the US. It was as if they believed a UK government’s response to a “provocation” would go beyond words; that its resort of choice would be (as is theirs apparently) to force. In reality we wouldn’t let a soldier blow his nose without their approval. [And for the record, we didn’t send tanks on to the streets of Dublin after the IRA (by the way mostly US funded – where was the war on terror then?) carried out bombings in mainland Britain.]

As the seasons roll on The West Wing becomes more and more a case of USians reassuring themselves that, for all their problems, they are good and true. Even the Republican nominee for President (excellently played by Alan Alda) is a reasonable man and not an extreme right wing lunatic, though his “shines-his-own shoes” down-homeness was a bit overdone.

No cliffhanger as such this time except for some lingering stuff about a secret military space shuttle.

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